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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

"Hunter's Run" by George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois + Daniel Abraham

Order “Hunter’s RunHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Interview with GRRM, Gardner Dozois & Daniel Abraham via Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist
Read Reviews of “Hunter’s Run” via Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist + The Book Swede

According to the ‘Afterword’ that was included at the end of the UK edition (Released September 3, 2007), “Hunter’s Run” is a story that’s been in the making for over thirty years, originally germinating in 1976 as an idea in the mind of fifteen-time Hugo Award-winning science fiction author/editor Gardner Dozois (The Year’s Best Science Fiction 1984-2004), before George R.R. Martin of the New York Times-bestselling A Song of Ice & Fire fantasy series got his hands on it and helped shape the tale into the “Shadow Twin” novella. It wasn’t until newcomer Daniel Abraham (The Long Price Quartet, GRRM’s Wild Cards) came into the picture though that the novella was actually completed and then released in limited edition via Subterranean Press (September 2005). However, GRRM always envisioned the story as a novel, and in 2007 that dream finally became a reality when “Hunter’s Run” was published in the UK (Voyager Books) with the book making it’s US debut (January 8, 2008) thanks to EOS.

First off, let’s get a few things straight. One, even though it took thirty years for “Hunter’s Run” to see publication, the tale is a timeless one and is just as relevant today as it would be in the 70s. Two, if you’re worried about how the writing styles of three different authors might clash in a single book, don’t be. The prose in “Hunter’s Run” is surprisingly synchronized throughout the entire novel, and in fact, it would be impossible to tell that three different people worked on the book if we didn’t already know ahead of time. Lastly, “Hunter’s Run” is a particular kind of science fiction novel, so if you’re in the mood for some hard SF, space opera, cyberpunk, military SF or a post-apocalyptic story, then you’ll probably be disappointed. What “Hunter’s Run” offers is more of a psychological drama. Sure, the setting is pure science fiction taking place in the far future on the colonized planet São Paulo, and you have aliens, space ships and whatnot, but the self-contained story is all about one man’s thought-provoking and emotionally intimate journey of self-discovery. In the authors’ own words—which can be found in the Q&A at the end of “Hunter’s Run” the UK edition—the novel is a ‘morality tale’, influenced by the likes of Mark Twain (Huckleberry Finn) and Ursula K. Le Guin (Left Hand of Darkness)…

Now, for a tale of this kind to work you have to have a strong protagonist and Ramon Espejo stands out for a couple of reasons. Obviously the character’s ethnic descent is one of them since we don’t see too many Hispanic heroes in speculative fiction literature. That, and basing São Paulo’s human colony on South & Central American cultures was a nice touch since it gave the book and characters a distinctive flavor. For me though, what I really liked about Ramon is that he’s not your typical good guy. He’s foul-mouthed, angry, doesn’t really get along with other people, hits his girlfriend, and is not afraid of killing a person in a bar fight. In short, Ramon Espejo is not very likeable and it’s hard to think of him as a hero, but that’s what make’s his story so compelling. After all, the heart of the novel is exploring the kind of person that Ramon is, the decisions he makes—like why he killed the European in the first place or why he stays with the crazy Elena even though he doesn’t really like her—, the hard truths that he comes to realize about himself, and what it’s going to take in order to change. Like I said, it’s a lot of psychological drama but Ramon’s journey wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if he was your standard goodie-two-shoes as opposed to the tough, flawed SOB that the authors make him out to be.

As far as Ramon’s journey, it’s not very hard to follow. Essentially, Espejo learns that the European he killed in a bar fight was actually an ambassador of Europa and that the governor of São Paulo is now hellbent on finding the murderer. So, Ramon takes off into the wilds on a prospecting run to let things cool down and while there makes a startling discovery: a hidden race of unidentified aliens! Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only one to see the aliens and before he knows it, Ramon’s being employed by the very same aliens as a tool to track down and ‘negate’ the poor fellow in order to ‘restore balanced flow’. What makes the manhunt so fascinating is a jaw-dropping twist which introduces a multitude of unique thematic dynamics that were some of the highlights of the story. Alas, I can’t talk about any of them without spoiling the fun ;) So instead, I’d like to focus on the interaction between Ramon and the alien called Maneck, which was almost as interesting and quite humorous. Basically, Ramon is joined to the alien by the umbilical cord-like sahael, and the first part of the hunt is spent with the two trying to understand each other—for Maneck it was grasping such human needs as food, water, bodily waste and sleep as well as the concept of freedom, killing and hunting, while Ramon had to figure out such alien ideas as tatecreude (purpose), aubre (contradiction), retehue (sentience), et cetera. Which actually brings me to one of my favorite parts of the book. In a couple of recent reviews, I wondered why more speculative fiction authors didn’t establish their own unique ecosystem when writing a fantasy or SF novel. Well, the writers in “Hunter’s Run” do just that, and it’s absolutely fabulous! From the cultures of the Enye and Maneck’s ‘people’ to the wildlife of São Paulo, I just had a blast exploring the book’s alien setting, and once again find myself wishing that more authors would do the same… Going back to the plot, there were a couple of other little curveballs that the authors throw at us like why the aliens were hiding in the first place and what kind of creatures the Enye really are, but for the most part “Hunter’s Run” is about Ramon Espejo and mankind in general, and in that regard the writers do a wonderful job of examining the different aspects of humanity…

In wrapping up, I wouldn’t go so far to say that “Hunter’s Run” is a “new benchmark in modern SF” as the press release states, but it is an extraordinary and evocative morality tale that really does make us think about what it means to be human, while also providing a ton of laughs, creativity and adventure along the way. About the only problems I had with the novel was one suspension of disbelief that I can’t talk about because of the twist, and the Enye who could have benefited from further development. Other than that, I thought the book delivered despite the lofty expectations. After all, how can you not have high hopes for a novel that features two living legends in GRRM and Gardner Dozois!? Of course, while George & Gardner may bring the cred, I thought
Daniel Abraham was the glue, and the more material that I read by the author, the more impressed I am, and if Daniel can keep producing at a high level I really think he’s going to be something special. So do yourself a big favor and give “Hunter’s Run” a chance. It may not redefine the genre, but it’s still better than a lot of speculative fiction that’s out there. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to get better acquainted with two masters of SF/fantasy literature and one seriously talented up-and-comer…

NOTE: There are four different versions of “Hunter’s Run”. Between the two mass market releases, the main difference is aesthetics with the US version sporting a better cover (in my opinion) and also an interior map of São Paulo, while the UK version features an interesting ‘Afterword’ and a Q&A with all three authors.
Subterranean Press is also offering two limited edition versions of “Hunter’s Run”—a signed hardcover copy numbered out of 500 and a signed deluxe bound hardcover copy housed in a custom traycase that is limited to 26. Both versions will feature cover artwork and interior illustrations by the award-winning Bob Eggleton. You can preorder the limited editions HERE.


Raven said...

Wow, this sounds fascinating. I'm a sucker for a good psychological drama, especially with an antihero as the protag.

Robert said...

Well, I definitely think you might like this book then :)

rastronomicals said...

In the middle of the book right now; found this site by searching on Alta Vista for "tatecreude."

It's an astonishingly quick read; I got the thing in the mail from the Sci Fi book club three days ago, and I suspect I;ll be done with it by the time two more have passed.

The last time before this novel that Iencountered the word pendejo had been in a Cheech and Chong movie--Nice Dreams, maybe?--and I think that's amusing if not outright funny. But at different times during the book I've wondered whether someone of Hispanic background might not take offense at Ramon's sometime broadly-painted makeup.
On the other hand, it's interesting in what the authors have done with Ramon, because they immediately and in no uncertain terms give the reader reason to dislike and disrespect the protagonist, while nonetheless going on to slowly unravel the threads that reveal parts of Ramon's character which are likeable and respectable after all. Neat trick.

If I can fixate on GRRM for a bit, it almost reminds me of Jaime Lannister, althought the rehbilitation was more sudden for Jaime.

Anyway, seeing this post, I just figured I'd drop a post saying how much I was enjoying the book.

Robert said...

Rastronomicals (love that name btw!), thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts :) I'm glad you're enjoying the book so far and would love to hear your final thoughts...

rob9232 said...

Hunters Run was fabulous! Ramon Espejo is an exciting pendejo who you grow to love by the end of the story. I couldn't put it down. The story is flow and devoid of Aubre. The setting is very believable and familiar even though it is millions of light years from home. The Aliens are interesting and have a good back-story. Just enough to create a little sympathy for them. The Enye were a little neglected in detail, but some of that lent to their mystery. I hope that Ramon Espejo returns someday for another adventure. He's one tough son-of-a-bitch!

Anxiety x 10 = my life said...

wish they would make sequel

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